Pope Francis’s visit to the U.S. last month was the sort of crossover cultural/political event that prompted media coverage that might well be compared to the first visit of The Beatles to America. Everything the Pope said or did was parsed like a biblical verse for it’s meaning, hidden or otherwise. Liberals and conservatives sparred over which side of the political divide benefited more from his statements and actions, whether it was support for action against global warming or his meeting with Kim Davis, the Kentucky official who went to jail to show her opposition to gay marriage. But equal attention should be given to the unambiguous statement he made this week about anti-Semitism and attacks on Israel. As a rising tide of Jew-hatred engulfs Europe and support among cultural elites for economic warfare projects whose aim is the destruction of Israel has increased, Francis has made it clear that those who attack Israel’s existence must be labeled for what they are: anti-Semites.
The conceit that there is a vast gulf between those who oppose Israel’s existence and anti-Semitism is a standard talking point for those who support the war on the Jewish state. They have, they say, nothing against Jews or Judaism. They just don’t approve of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state or, as is almost always the case, of virtually any measure of self-defense it might employ against terrorist attacks. But the pope’s wisdom here is a refreshing dose of reality for those in the arts and academia who pretend that you can hate Israel without hating Jews.
“To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism,” the pope said in a private meeting at the Vatican with Jewish leaders on Wednesday, according to a statement from the World Jewish Congress. “There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity.”
There is, as the Pope says, a clear distinction between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israeli policies. But the point of BDS — boycott, divest and sanction — campaigns against Israel is not to change its policies, or even to shrink its borders. The purpose of economic warfare against Israel is to aid in its isolation and destruction. Nor can any honest observer pretend that Palestinians — like the Hamas government of Gaza, which openly calls for Israel’s destruction, or the Fatah government of the West Bank, which won’t recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn — aren’t still pushing for Israel’s elimination. The same goes for Islamic clerics that deny Jewish rights at holy places in Jerusalem or the Iranian regime.
It must also be asserted that the notion that one can favor Israel’s destruction without being anti-Semitic is both illogical and a deception.
There is only one Jewish state in the world, but it is the only country on the planet that is the subject of a campaign aimed at its elimination. If you treat Israel differently from other countries by singling it out for condemnation that you wouldn’t give other nations that are egregious human rights violators rather than a functioning democracy like the Jewish state or refuse it the right of self-defense you would never think of questioning with respect to any other country, you are acting in a discriminatory fashion. And the term of art for discrimination against Jews is anti-Semitism.
Why is this point so often misunderstood or distorted, especially by those who claim to be without prejudice?
The answer is that the revival of anti-Semitism several decades after the Holocaust seemed to relegate Jew-haters to the fever swamps of Western societies is predicated on drawing such false distinctions. The ideological basis for anti-Zionism is the belief that Israel is a colonialist or imperialist state. That is an outright falsehood since it is the homeland of the Jewish people and Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jews. But even if you support Palestinian claims for a state in some of the land that Israel possesses, the idea that Jews are the only people in the world without the right to a state is an outrageous act of prejudice. Sympathy for the Palestinians and their plight, which is due to their consistent refusal to compromise over the last century, is no excuse for a movement that is aimed at denying Jewish rights.
As Pope Francis points out, anyone who takes such a stand can’t hide behind ideology or complaints about Israeli policies. Anti-Zionism is not an acceptable or legitimate political stand. It is hate, pure and simple.